Continent boxes are one of my favourite Montessori pieces of equipment. They are fun to put together and a great way to bond and create fun lessons with your children. But before we get into how to use them we need to start looking at how to create one and what exactly you need inside your continent boxes.
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Why do we need to teach smalls kids about the continents?
Continent boxes are not just about the geography of the continent. They are a great way to teach children about different cultures, lifestyles, religions, and how people are different all over the world. Teaching kids about the difference in humans from an early age creates a better understanding of people. Children then show more empathy and there is more love and less hate in the world.
What is a continent box?
Continent boxes are a treasure trove of items used to teach children about the world. Typically seven boxes are used, one for each continent, and inside are a number of items that we can use to teach about that continent to the children. Even if you are doing Montessori from home, you can still have the space to create a continent box.
We can include a number of items that might teach the child about animals, geography, plants, geology, people, lifestyles, religion, festivals… There are no hard and fast rules which is one of the reasons why continent boxes are so much fun.
What should I include in my Montessori continent boxes?
This is the fun part because really there are no rules. If you have friends or family living overseas then you can personalize your continent boxes which will help your kids understand where these friends and family live, and what it’s like out there.
Although most of these items can be used by kids of all ages, continent boxes don’t have to be just for preschoolers, you can also adjust the type of items that you add to your continent box to fit the age of your children. What I can tell you is that often kids will keep coming back and as they grow they will gain a deeper understanding using the items that you have in your continent box.
You can collect any of the following items:
These are perfect to add to your continent box because they are small and easy to collect. Often postage stamps have pictures of important people treasures, buildings, places, animals and such for the country that they are made for.
These are usually interesting and have photographs or images of places of interest for the country that you’re going to be studying. They are cheap and easy to collect.
Super easy to add to your continent box. You can print out your own photographs from your travels, ask friends or family for photographs they’ve taken, I’ll scour free stock photo sites and print them out yourself. If you need free stock photo sites I have a post for the best stock photos sites here.
Maps, leaflets and pamphlets
Maps are always interesting to look at and often leaflets and pamphlets from places of interest have snippets of important information and photos and points of interest. These are always a great addition for your history buffs.
Landmark figurines and toy animals
These can be great to use as a sorting activity and also place the items on Maps of the country or areas of the world. Kids generally enjoy using figurines and it helps them to remember what they are learning as they are using something tactile in their hands. There are some great Toob Sets that you can use in your continent boxes.
For some reason kids love flags and learning about flags helps children to understand and remember that continents are made up of different countries. If you are needing flags for your continent boxes check out my Etsy store as I have them for each of the continents here.
These are perfect if you or a friend or family member travel a lot. Fridge magnets often make great conversation starters also traditional crafts. Anything that starts the conversation or can encourage a child to think and learn more about different cultures works well in the situation.
This can be represented by photographs, actual artwork, postcards, or anything that was created by a local artist. You can then use this as a springboard to learn about different artistic techniques and materials that may be used by specific communities on the continent.
Coins and notes, even replica notes are great additions to the continent box. Comparing currencies and understanding values are important lessons plus the artwork on coins and notes usually has an interesting story to tell.
Food samples are fun to add as you work on the box but not such a great idea to keep long term, for obvious reasons. Recipes are also a fun addition, most cultures have simple recipes that children can prepare. And discussions around food are always interesting. Even if the culture that you are studying has very specific types of food that are not available where you live often you can substitute a local ingredient so that you can still have the fun of making a recipe. In fact, I encourage that you do this rather than not make anything at all and bring in the conversation about specific foods being available in specific places and why you have had to substitute an ingredient.
If you still own a CD player you could add a CD to your continent’s box with traditional music or music produced on the continent. Failing that when you are studying your continents you could include a playlist on Spotify or similar. There are so many amazing types of music out there it really should be something you include with your continent studies.
We didn’t actually keep books in the boxes as they tend to take up too much space but having books that share stories from specific countries, atlases, religions, cultures, world encyclopedias etc. Are a must-have to go alongside the continent boxes.
How do I find things to put into a Montessori culture box?
Once you start building your continent boxes you’ll find that you are looking everywhere for things that you can add to the box.
Here are a few places to get you started:
- Charity / Op shops / recycling stores
- Dollars store or equivalent
- In your own home, have a good rummage about!
- Friends and family – explain what you are doing and ask if they have anything you can add.
- Friends and family that travel – ask them to pick up something for you ( this is how we ended up with items from the Falklands, my uncle was travelling there for work!)
- Local festivals put on by the foreign community
- Foreign speciality stores
Organizing your own swaps to fill your continent boxes
Back in the day are used to organize continent swaps with other Montessori passionate moms around the world. It was a lot of fun and an inexpensive way to collect authentic items.
As the organized swaps got bigger and bigger (I had over 200 people join in the last one that I ran) I found that there were several unscrupulous people joining who were not sending out boxes but just collecting what people had sent them and this became a problem and I decided to stop organizing the swaps.
But don’t let this stop you. What I suggest is connecting with a handful of people online or maybe contacting people that you know who live overseas and organizing a swap that way rather than connecting with totally random people that you don’t know that you can trust.
One thing I would recommend is putting guidelines in place, a monetary value is difficult but you could ask for say five postcards, a few stamps, a recipe, 10 small items such as animals etc.
One of my favourite swaps that I organized was a postcard recipe swap. The rules were to send a picture postcard of the country you were representing plus a child-friendly easy recipe written on the back. We still make some of the recipes that we received from that swap.
Important to note – since the pandemic happened many countries have had disrupted postal services so do you check before you organize anything that parcels/postcards can actually be sent and received.
How do you teach about continents to preschoolers?
Learning about the continents should be a low-pressure fun way of learning about the world. Having actual items to handle automatically makes learning about different places more interesting. Rather than just looking at a map or globe which is hard to imagine about it if you have never travelled from your own country.
Although we kept everything within the box for safekeeping. When it came to studying I would take out specific items and place them on a tray along with three part cards that were relevant for the study. For example, if we were studying Africa I would set up the African three-part cards and a tray with items from Africa and some activities to go with that too. Plus we would get out the African puzzle map.
When studying a country, we would start with the continent and then zone into the country that we were going to dive into. This helped to understand where in the world the country we were studying this. For studying countries, join 193 Little Adventures Club and get a study pack of printables delivered to your inbox every month!
Some people prefer to learn about their own continent first, or if you are going travelling you might want to study the continent you’re travelling to. Or if your child shows an interest in something then why not dive straight into that. It might be that penguins are the current obsession so why not utilize that and study Antarctica?
Before each continent lesson, we’d sing the continent song, learn it here…
Remember there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to learning about the world. Keep it fun and let your kid’s curiosity lead the way.
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